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Bike Profile - Posted 7th July 2010

Moto Morini 350K Sport - Part 11: Finger-Tight
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An MOT, an oil leak, four flashers that don't and a little extra padding. Martin Gelder's Morini Three and a Half Sport is ready for action, unless there's something else he's missed...

One of the pleasures of owning old bikes, for me anyway, is being able to fix 'em up. Not in the 'restored to concours condition' sense - you'd know that if you'd seen any of my bikes - but just getting them running right, making sure they're reliable and fit for use. Perhaps this is why I could never bring myself to buy a bike that is in perfect condition; whatever I did to it would make it worse.

Over the last seven years ('Who knows where the time goes?') my '82 Morini Three and a Half has gradually been tickled, tweaked and tinkered into shape. The front and rear ends have both been comprehensively overhauled but apart from servicing (and fixing my own bodges) the reliable engine has been pretty much left alone. The bike seems to have reached the point where it just... works, which is probably why it's almost a year since my last Morini write-up. After last year's Festival of 1000 Bikes, I just got on with riding it until its MOT ran out, and then the Morini gradually made its way to the back of the shed while the BMW took on the salt and slime of winter.

Looks quite clean here. It's not... 1982 Moto Morini 350K Sport

When spring arrives, a young (?) man's thoughts inevitably turn to rearsets and clip-ons, and so a couple of months ago the Morini was dragged blinking into the April sunshine for its pre-MOT check over.

It had got an 'advisory' last year for slightly notchy head bearings, but I'd suspected that what the tester was feeling was a bit of stiction in the standard-fitment steering damper. Simple solution; remove the damper. With the damper off it was obvious that stiction wasn't the problem; far from sticking slightly, the shaft was so loose in the damper body that it rattled from side and dropped from end to end with a clunk. No sign of a notch in the head bearings, though.

The swinging arm bushes were replaced a couple of years ago with PTFE ones made by EVguru and while there was no slack in them, a millimetre or so of side-play had appeared from somewhere. I think this was probably due to my over-generous application of paint wearing off the ends of the tubes that the bushes sit in, but a tweak of the threaded spindle restored normal service.

With the bike now poised to be put back on the road, I treated it to a couple of extra layers of padding on the seat - I must be getting old - and then booked an MOT. I've been taking three bikes a year to the same MOT tester for the last twelve years without a failure, but I still get nervous on the big day.

Maybe that's why I accidentally scuffed the Morini's tank against the Yamaha's indicator as I wheeled it out of the shed. It was a very gentle scuff - barely noticeable, in fact - but as I hoiked the Morini onto its stand, one of its tank badges clattered onto the floor. Not a good omen.

And then a mile or so from the MOT station, the oil light flickered on. It's done this before; there's a slight weep of oil from the switch which gets on the electrical contact and breaks the connection, but it's always a worry. Things were getting worse.

350 Morinis on Right Now......

Finally, the ultimate indignity; an MOT fail. The indicators gave up flashing when the headlight and stop lights were on, regardless of engine revs. They'd always been a bit marginal - they were probably a bit marginal when the bike was new, to be honest - but today they finally gave up flashing. I tried playing the 'Italian electrics' card but the tester wasn't having any of it; if the bike had indicators, they had to flash when the lights were on.

Of course, if the bike didn't have indicators.... Fifteen minutes later, the bike was re-tested and declared fit for the road, and I made my way home with the indicators stuffed into my bag. At least adding the extra seat padding had been worthwhile; it now felt as though I was simply sitting on a cricket bat rather than being beaten with one.

Leaky oil pressure switch lets you know when all the oil has leaked past it and onto the ground...

Over the next couple of days the oil leak from the oil pressure switch - who said Italians don't do irony - got steadily worse and when it reached the point where the bike was dropping oil on the floor overnight, I bit the bullet and ordered a new one (a new switch, not a new bike) from North Leicester Motorcycles.

Have you ever noticed that when you get an idea into your head of what is causing a problem, it's all too easy to overlook the obvious? When the new switch arrived and I went to unfasten the old one, I found it was only finger-tight. I don't *think* that was what was causing the leak, but the mechanical carnage that would have resulted from it unscrewing itself while I was riding didn't bear thinking about. How long had it been that loose?

And what else was also loose? Just out of interest, I checked one of the Allen bolts holding the primary drive cover in place. Barely more than finger-tight. I checked the rest; all the same. I checked the bolts holding engine cover on the other side, but they were okay. Then again, they should be; I'd done those up myself. All the loose bolts were ones I hadn't touched. Hmmm.

Ah, the seventies. Fantic Choppers and Z1 Kawas... Fantic Chopper 125

The new, improved comfi-lux seat made its presence felt - or rather, it didn't, which was nice - on the run down to the Ace Cafe for the Seventies Day to meet up with The Destroyer and Al O'Newbie, and the exhaust heat shield I'd carved and beaten out of an old road sign did a fine job of preserving my trouser leg.

Seventies bike, thirties motor, bamboo crash hat... Harley Davidson XLCR1000

What wasn't so fine was that fixing the oil pressure switch oil leak had revealed another leak - more of a weep this time, if you want to get technical - from somewhere behind the rear barrel. The 150 mile run to the Ace and back showed that it wasn't coming from the rocker cover, which has already needed a new gasket and a Helicoil kit to keep it in place, but from the cylinder head / barrel join. There was no sign of the head gasket blowing as such, but that's where the oil appeared to be coming from.

And then I thought of all those finger-tight fasteners I'd found recently. Surely whoever had last had the head off (signs of gasket goo round the base of the barrel hint it's been off at least once in the past) had torqued it down properly?

Apparently not. It wasn't loose as such, but with the rocker gear out of the way and the torque wrench on the job, there was at least a quarter of a turn before each of the head bolts was nipped up properly. The head was pulled down enough for me to have to reset the tappets, but at least the oil leak seems to have gone.

Quick, take a photo before something else comes loose... 1982 Moto Morini 350K Sport

The engine is the only area of the bike I haven't really delved into, and now I'm worried about what else is only finger tight....


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